Lettering Week: Applying Pressure in Brush Calligraphy with Sharisse! 135

Lettering Sharisse

Sharisse is a brush calligrapher located in Sacramento, California. She enjoys engaging with other calligraphers and handlettering artists and learning something new every day. When she is not chasing her toddler twin boys or working at her day job, you can find her creating, teaching, or blogging about brush calligraphy.

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When creating brush calligraphy, it is important to understand when to apply pressure.

The amount of pressure you apply to your brush pen directly affects the width of each of your strokes. The more pressure you apply, the thicker your strokes will be. And the less pressure you apply, the thinner your strokes will be.

But what exactly is pressure? How do you create and control pressure? When do you apply pressure?

1 - applying pressure


Pressure is the act of exerting force of an object (such as a brush pen) onto something else (such as a piece of paper).

Pressure can be heavy and forceful, or it can be light and gentle. The amount of pressure you need depends on the writing style and effect you desire.

When creating brush calligraphy in particular, you want to apply heavy pressure to create thick downstrokes and light pressure to create thin upstrokes. The variation of thick and thin strokes is what defines calligraphy. Therefore, knowing when to apply pressure is crucial for creating brush calligraphy.



As mentioned above, you create pressure by pressing your brush pen down onto the paper with force.

Before you begin writing, be sure you are holding your pen correctly and at the proper angle. Every brush pen is different in size and flexibility, which means you must spend time getting familiar with your pen.

Hold your pen at an angle to avoid fraying the tip of your pen and to also optimize the flexibility of the tip. It may take some time getting used to the brush pen, as it is very different from a regular marker or writing tool. (If you are left-handed, you can achieve the proper angle, too! Hold the brush pen using an overwriter grip, which will allow you to hold the pen at the same angle as a right-hander.)

2 - applying pressure, holding pen

When exerting pressure, you must maintain control over the brush pen and continue holding the pen at the proper angle. Your angle may adjust slightly with each stroke. Over time, you will find yourself adapting your own unique grip and hand/finger position around your brush pen to adjust for your own writing style.



Once you are holding your pen with a comfortable grip and at the proper angle, bring the pen to the page and by barely touching the tip of the paper. When creating thin strokes, you do not need to apply much pressure, if any at all. Once the tip of your pen touches the paper, slowly and carefully draw a line at an angle, and do not exert much force with the pen.

3 - thin stroke

To create a thicker stroke, apply more pressure to the pen. Press your brush pen onto the page (maintaining the proper angle) and watch as the tip flexes or slightly bends, allowing more of the tip to touch the page. Keep this pressure, or amount of force, on the pen, and draw a stroke. If you are holding your pen at the right angle, you’ll see that the stroke is significantly thicker than your previous upstroke. You can experiment with different amounts of pressure and observe the varying stroke widths each amount of pressure creates.

4 - thick stroke



Controlling the pressure can be tricky when you are first learning brush calligraphy. A huge part of gaining control is knowing your pen. Be sure to get familiar with your pen and learn how to hold it correctly.

To control the pressure you exert, practice varying amounts of pressure for long periods of time. In other words, PRACTICE!

The biggest advice that has helped me develop a good sense of control is to break down my words and letters and go slow. If you get too much ahead of yourself and try to write long paragraphs before you master basic strokes, you will find it difficult and frustrating to master control over your pen. Do not rush or else you risk compromising quality and the ability to improve your strokes based on the pressure you exert.

For starters, begin with the lightest amount of pressure you can exert, one in which you are barely touching the page. Create strokes with this amount of pressure only and fill an entire page with that stroke. Then, increase the amount of pressure slightly, and fill a new page with that stroke. Drills, or practice sessions, in which you work on creating thin and thick lines will best help you develop control over pressure.

Here are some example strokes to practice:

5 - thin and thick strokes

Try these simple drills to get familiar with your brush pen, experiment applying various amounts of pressure, and identify the areas in which you need further practice.

Left: The lowercase “i” repeated over and over and connected to the next.

Right: Lowercase letters containing more advanced strokes. Remember to hold your pen at the proper angle as you write the entire letter.

6 - practice drills

In this short video, I demonstrate how to apply light pressure for achieving thin strokes, and heavy pressure for downstrokes for achieving thick strokes. These strokes are great for practicing control over the brush pen, which in turn contributes to better control of your brush calligraphy.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what questions you have on applying pressure with brush pens or any additional tips you have of your own. You can also check out more of my brush calligraphy tutorials, tips, and videos on my blog at piecescalligraphy.com.

Happy writing!


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